Marian sanctuaries in Calabria

May Marian Pilgrimages

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Sites of faith

Feb 16, 2024 10:21 AM

The month of May, consecrated to the Virgin Mary, is an opportunity to engage in so-called "religious and sacred tourism" through Marian pilgrimages.

Calabria, a land particularly devoted to the Marian cult, offers a series of itineraries that combine spirituality, nature and art, making a pilgrimage to Calabria's Marian shrines a truly immersive experience.

Marian devotion in Calabria

Devotion to the Virgin Mary is particularly heartfelt in Calabria. The subject of worship, patronal and popular festivals, Marian pilgrimages and legends linking the sacred and the profane, the Madonna is the absolute protagonist of the month of May.

Spring, in fact, with the reawakening of nature and the spirit, accompanies the desire to embark on the most beautiful paths of faith, to discover the places that host the most important Marian shrines in the region, as well as the smaller churches that still preserve traditions and rituals linked to the ancient devotion to the Virgin Mary.

From the south to the north of the region, sanctuaries dedicated to the Virgin Mary are located in places that are the object of pilgrimage, inviting to quietness and meditation in close contact with nature. There are many miraculous apparitions, recognised by the Church or handed down by simple popular tradition, which associate the figure of the Madonna with the discovery of sacred images and icons with salvific powers.

On the sites of the discoveries and apparitions there are still today Calabrian Marian shrines, many of them immersed in nature, of powerful beauty. Some examples?

Pilgrimages to Marian shrines in Calabria

Many Marian shrines in Calabria have a close link with the history and older culture of the area in which they are located, such as the famous Sanctuary of the Madonna di Polsi (or Madonna della Montagna), in the municipality of San Luca, in the province of Reggio Calabria.

The pilgrimage to Polsi, in the heart of the Aspromonte National Park, bears the devotion of a local community deeply attached to the Marian rite.

Tradition tells of a shepherd who had lost a cattle in the valley. He found him kneeling in front of an iron cross dug into the ground, where the Madonna and Child appeared, asking to build a place of worship on that spot.

Thus arose the Sanctuary of Polsi, where every year devotees make the traditional pilgrimage to Our Lady of the Mountain.

Santuario di Polsi
Regione Calabria

Heading up the Tyrrhenian coast, our hypothetical "Calabrian Marian Path" stops in Tropea, one of the Most Beautiful Villages in Italy as well as a Blue Flag, in the province of Vibo Valentia, along the Costa degli Dei.

Here stands the iconic Sanctuary of Santa Maria dell'Isola, the church atop Calabria's most famous cliff, which can be admired from the city's overlook facing the marina below.

Every year, between May and September, pilgrims devoted to the Virgin Mary from all over Italy converge on this place. As a vow, they usually climb on their knees the long, steep staircase leading to the sanctuary, carved out between the spurs of the cliff.

Tropea santuario
Vincenzo Stranieri

In the Catanzaro area, the history of the Sanctuary of the Madonna di Porto, in Gimigliano, is worth mentioning.

In this case, the birth of the basilica is identified with the story of young Pietro Gatto. We are in 1751 and the young man takes refuge in the woods of Gimigliano to escape justice, until Our Lady of Constantinople appears in a dream and induces him to convert and build a place of pilgrimage and faith.

The historical origins of this devotion seem to derive from Naples and the Eastern Marian cult widespread between the 16th and 17th centuries. Like many other Calabrian Marian icons, the image of this Madonna is of the Achèropita type, i.e. "not made by human hand".


Another important Marian pilgrimage takes place in Crotone, at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Capo Colonna.

The picturesque locality, overlooking the Ionian Sea near the National Archaeological Park of the same name whose symbol is the column of the Temple of Hera Lacinia, hosts the most important Marian shrine in the Crotone area.

The simplicity of the building, whitewashed in the Mediterranean style, contrasts with the splendour and charm of the pilgrimage to Capo Colonna that takes place every year on the third Sunday in May: a night-time procession (the "Night of the Nights") that starts from Crotone Cathedral, where the painting of the Madonna carried on the shoulders is kept, and reaches the sanctuary with singing and liturgy.

Santuario Madonna di Capo Colonna
Di Mboesch - Opera propria, CC BY-SA 4.0,

We conclude our ideal Marian journey in the province of Cosenza, at two important Calabrian Marian shrines: the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Pettoruto, in San Sosti, and the Sanctuary of the Madonna delle Armi, in Cerchiara di Calabria, "City of Bread".

The first is linked to the figure of the sculptor Nicola Mario from Altomonte. He was accused of murder and took refuge in the caves of Montagna del Pettoruto, where he sculpted the face of the Madonna and Child in her arms out of devotion.

The statue was found by chance by a deaf-mute shepherd boy, who heard it speak. Since then, the Pettoruto has been a pilgrimage destination for the whole of Calabria.

The second, set in a rocky gorge, dates back to the 15th century. It is said that during construction, a stonemason, breaking a stone, found sacred images of Byzantine origin inside, including a miraculous Madonna and Child. The most striking element of the sanctuary is the Chapel of the Madonna carved into the rock.

Santuario Santa Maria delle Armi
Di Fernando Santopaolo di Wikipedia in italiano - Trasferito da it.wikipedia su Commons., Pubblico dominio,

Would you like to organise your Marian pilgrimage in Calabria? Discover all the sanctuaries in Calabria dedicated to the Virgin Mary and combine art, nature and spirituality in a single experience.